Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Treating a baby with colic

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Traditional medicine views colic in infants as a symptom of compromised digestion. Photo / iStock
Traditional medicine views colic in infants as a symptom of compromised digestion. Photo / iStock

Hi Sandra, my baby is crying constantly, our midwife says our daughter is healthy but suffering from colic. I've heard gripe water works but don't know much about it, do you recommend it?

Colic in a new baby is understandably distressing, so I sympathise with wanting to do as much as you can to get relief for both your baby and yourself.

Modern medicine views infantile colic as a bit of a mystery - it is defined as 'an otherwise healthy baby who has outbursts of crying, irritability and fussiness lasting for more than three hours per day, more than three days per week, for more than three weeks'. The term is really a catch-all for problem-crying in otherwise healthy babies. Sometimes there are other signs of distress in addition to crying - drawing up of legs to the belly, arching, abdominal distension and facial flushing, for example.

In a small proportion of babies diagnosed with colic, an underlying condition is found to be at the root of the distress. Cows milk allergy, gastro-oesophageal reflux, lactose and/or fructose intolerance and infantile migraine, are real, but reasonably rare causes of colic in babies.

Whilst many other babies appear to be in considerable distress, no actual disease can be found.

Traditional medicine views colic in infants as a symptom of compromised digestion. The word colic is derived from the ancient Greek word for intestine (kolon) and was a disease characterised by severe abdominal pain. Uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as gas, cramping and reflux can occur in babies just as in adults - the difference is adults have the words with which to communicate their symptoms.

In support of the traditional approach, there are a growing number of studies pointing to general digestive imbalance occurring in babies with colic. A 2005 study in the European Journal of Paediatric Allergy and Immunology showed that infants with colic had fewer beneficial Lactobacilli (healthy gut microbes) than those without colic.

In cases of infantile colic presenting in my clinic where I suspect compromised digestion, where I suspect compromised digestion, I use the same gentle plant medicines that support adult digestion, in lower doses. The medicinal herbs Fennel, Chamomile and Licorice were found in clinical trials to be significantly better than placebo for treating infantile colic. I find these are best combined with other carminative plants digestive stimulants such as Aniseed, Cinnamon, Peppermint and Dandelion.

Certified organic infusions of these herbs can be given to baby before and/or after feeding to support normal digestion, and any time baby is in discomfort. For infants, one teaspoon with each feed up to six times daily is sufficient. Older children can also benefit, but doses need to be increased (i.e. 10ml 3-5 times daily for babies 6-12 months). These plants also work superbly for reflux and are used by many parents as a natural alternative to Losec or Gaviscon.

Many modern day Gripe Water formulations combine some of the above herbs in formulations that may contain bicarbonate, added sugar, additives, preservatives and occasionally alcohol. Using the herbs as a traditional tea means you avoid the added extras that can take away from baby's health.

Remember to always seek advice from your health practitioner or call 111 in health emergencies.

Hi Sandra, I have been doing your liver and kidney detox for three months now and I can't believe the difference. I am now taking your PMT Ease Tea as I have hit peri-menopause (no hot flushes yet but feeling very moody and bloated before my period) I am having a terrible time but I am not sure how to manage all these teas in my daily routine - can you provide some advice?
Jane - Howick

How do I manage all these teas in my daily routine? Photo / iStock
How do I manage all these teas in my daily routine? Photo / iStock

Hi Jane, glad to hear you are reaping the benefits of a seasonal detox!

I find that focusing on one health challenge at a time can keep things manageable. A minimum three-month period is often required for hormonal balance, so you may benefit from focusing predominantly on that since the previous three months were spent on detoxification. It is wise to provide continued liver support whilst working on hormonal balance, and you can do this daily with a single cup of bitter herbs before breakfast.

Should you start to have hot flushes with the progression of your journey towards menopause then I recommend that you switch from the PMT Ease Tea to the Cool & Calm Tea. The naturally occurring and safe phyto-oestrogens in Hops help with the decline of oestrogens - a cause of irritability and sleeplessness - and Sage eases hot flushes.

As for managing herbal tea consumption throughout the day, I brew up a large pot or tea/coffee plunger (about 1L size) with my tea of choice. Once infused it can be shifted to a large thermos that keeps the tea hot for the entire day. It is then on hand every time I'm due for a cup and there is less time spent brewing individual cups. I meet therapeutic doses of tea easily with this method. Large infusers are available from specialised teashops and most good camping stores will have a variety of thermos sizes.

- NZ Herald

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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